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Early losses for Charleston Southern are part of the maturation process

The Bucs are developing early without star Christian Keeling

NCAA Basketball: Charleston Southern at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Raleigh, N.C. — The Charleston Southern Buccaneers made their season-opening trip to North Carolina without star Christian Keeling.

The result? Losses to Davidson and NC State.

More subtle, however, was the maturation process of a young team, starting to become evident against the Wolfpack.

Despite the circumstances, it was an opportunity for the Bucs to gain experience. In the 78-56 loss to NC State, Charleston Southern started three freshmen: Sean Price, Deontaye Buskey, and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. Six more underclassmen made for nine total on the roster.

The youth showed. Continuity amongst the Bucs was a work in progress. At times, you could see that teammates were unsure of each other within the half court. That uncertainty led to a 17-0 run to end the first half and a 21-point deficit at 42-21.

The other side of the youth: fearlessness — a gritty team that isn’t going to give you anything easy, especially on the defensive end. They were sound in their rotations, contested every shot and rebounded with aggression.

“When the game got into the half-court, I thought we did a really good job,” head coach Barclay Radebaugh said after the game. “It’s tough to defend a turnover. The thing we do best is we have a tremendous attitude.”

That attitude kept the Bucs in this contest as they came out competing at a high level to begin the second half. Part of the process for young players is consistency and taking care of the basketball. Turnovers were huge as the Wolfpack forced 24, but part of that is inexperience.

“If you eliminate our mental mistakes, then it’s a 10- or 12-point game, and the only way you get rid of those mental mistakes is experience,” Radebaugh said.

The good news is there are plenty of pieces for the team to develop into a special group.

Fleming Jr. is just the compliment to Keeling that could ignite the offense. He found his rhythm in the second stanza, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Junior Travis McConico chipped in 14 points and kept the team together.

The Bucs shot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in the second half while continuing to defend. They held NC State to 41 percent shooting and 22 percent from the arc, but the hole was to deep to climb out.

This young group might take some lumps throughout the year, but come time for conference play, they should be a tough matchup. They are athletic with length, full of toughness, share the ball, and defend. Early season challenges and adversity might have been just the right recipe for this unit.

“In two nights I’ve asked them to guard the best motion in the country that Bob McKillop runs and then asked them to guard an amazing press that comes at you from all angles, which can only help us,” Radebaugh said. “These young kids have reenergized our program. We play with tremendous effort. Execution just hasn’t caught up yet.”